Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease, has recently been associated with increased striatal volume and decreased intracranial volume (ICV) in longstanding patients. As inflammation has been shown to precede the clinical diagnosis of RA and it is a known moderator of neuro- and gliogenesis, we were interested in testing whether these brain morphological changes appear before the clinical onset of disease in healthy young adult volunteers, as a function of relative genetic risk for RA. Genetic and structural MRI data were available for 516 healthy non-Hispanic Caucasian university students (275 women, mean age 19.78 years, SD=1.24). Polygenic risk scores were computed for each individual based on a genome-wide association study of RA, so that higher scores indicated higher risk. Striatal volume (sum of caudate, putamen, and nucleus accumbens volumes) and ICV were derived for each individual from high-resolution T1-weighted images. After controlling for sex, age, genetic components of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and depressive symptoms, we found that higher RA polygenic risk scores were associated with increased striatal volume, but not decreased ICV. Our findings suggest that increased striatal volume may be linked to processes that precede disease onset, such as inflammation, while decreased ICV may relate to disease progression.
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